Jungle themed high chair with washable tray and talking parrot – check. Tummy time mat with musical bugs and butterflies – check. Automatic baby swing/cradle featuring 4 positions and 8 lullabies, baby bathtub with matching frog sponge and toys, baby monitor, baby gym, bouncer, bassinet, mini plastic picnic table – check! Yup, I was THAT mom with my first child. I had all the gadgets, read all the books, and Babies R’ Us was my home away from home.
Of course, this meant that literally every room of my house was filled with some sort of “essential” baby gear. Because from the moment we find out we’re pregnant, we are conditioned to believe that these gadgets are the lifeline to our very survival of motherhood and baby’s first years. We start making lists and building our nest before our little one is even the size of a grapefruit. And if there’s a baby shower on the horizon (never had one myself), we are taught to go all out and grab every basket and bonnet in stock, as if our very success as a mother depends on it.
But when I found out I was pregnant the second time around, I was far, far away from home and from that superstore life. I had been living abroad in Dubai for 5 years, and if you’re familiar with life in the glitzy desert metropolis, you’ll know that it’s a very transitory place. 80% of its population are expats who will come and go like passengers on a Greyhound bus. You can never really “settle” in the UAE because your very existence as an expat, no matter what country you hail from, can change dramatically with a mere 30 days notice. (This is a whole other topic we’ll explore in another post.)
So there I was, pregnant and at a crossroads, trying to decide if we should stay in Dubai, move back to America, or go on to a new adventure in Egypt. And until that decision was made, I couldn’t get into baby planning mode because I was unsure if I was staying or going. If I was moving back or moving on. If I should be building a nest or simply borrowing one.
So fighting every mother hen instinct I had, I did not go to the shops. I did not peruse Baby Shop online during my breaks (UAE’s equivalent to Babies R’ Us) – at least not that often. I did not start planning a nursery, as desperately as I wanted to. Because I couldn’t very well start buying a bunch of heavy baby gear that I wouldn’t be able to take with me if we ended up moving.
Playing it safe
We bought only the bare minimum we would need for our baby’s first year. A place for him to sleep – lightweight, transportable Pack n’ Play (we added an additional thick mattress for better back support). A way to carry him safely to doctors appointments- a three wheel stroller and baby carrier/car seat. And a place to set him down safely when I was busy in the kitchen – a bouncer seat (although later I realized even that wasn’t necessary as he preferred to sit in his car seat ). That was pretty much it.
And while I was wracked with nerves just thinking about how I could possibly get through the next 12 months without the gates and gadgets I was used to, I didn’t really have a choice. Because sure enough, exactly four months after my baby arrived, we moved to Egypt.
And it was HARD. There were so many challenges I didn’t even anticipate! Like how the amazing stroller I bought could barely navigate the bumpy, uneven streets of Cairo. Or how having to carry said stroller up and down 4 flights of stairs every time we went out. And how none of the door safety handles and electrical outlet covers could actually fit the ancient doors and sockets of my apartment. But like most difficult things in life, I got through it. And before I knew it, my little guy was sitting up, then crawling, then walking – sans baby gear.
In fact, with all the floor time he was getting and without all the fancy toys and gadgets, we discovered he was hitting every milestone on time or ahead of schedule. Now, I know that every child is different and reaches milestones when they are good and ready. And I’m also not saying that baby gear can’t be helpful in a child’s development. I LOVE baby gear. But through this experience, I learned that it was possible to survive a baby’s first year without all the fancy gadgets, and I learned how to be a practical and resourceful mom to boot.
So today, I’m sharing five tried and true tips to avoid baby gear overload. If you’re living abroad, moving, staying with in-laws, or otherwise cramped for space – I’m looking at you!
Tip #1: Utilise Existing Furniture & Surroundings
Take a good look at your existing environment – your furniture, décor and knick knacks. Consider what could be used to support your baby’s needs. Instead of buying a fancy changing table, a cute basket you might already have filled with all your diaper supplies and a simple changing mat on a bed or sofa works just as well. Safer even. An oversized cushion from your sofa can just as easily prop your arm up while breastfeeding as a boppy can.
Tip #2: Encourage Family Members to Get Involved in Entertaining the Baby
Rather than relying on today’s gadgets to rock, carry, or cradle your little one, daddy’s arms are the perfect place for all of the above. You could also try a wearable baby wrap or sling, which folds right into your drawer when not in use. If you have other children at home, lay a soft blanket on the floor and have them play peek-a-boo or sing simple songs to the baby. A child’s face, the sound of a child’s voice, and simple hand movements are just as entertaining as plastic mirrors and musical worms, if not more so.
Tip #3: Invest in Versatile Baby Gear
For every item you think you’re ready to buy, ask yourself two questions. Can it serve multiple purposes? Can it be utilized for longer than the first year? If it can, it’s a winner! For example, rather than buying that gorgeous bassinet you’ll use for exactly five minutes or that heavy, mahogany wooden crib you’ll use for the first year only, opt for a crib that converts to a toddler bed so it can stay with your child for years to come. You could also opt for a portable crib or a Pack n’ Play like we did, which can be used both for sleeping and keeping your baby safe during the first year, then relocated to the living room as a play area later on.
Tip #4: Think Simple and Ordinary
While it’s tempting to go out and buy the elaborate baby gyms and brightly coloured developmental toys, your baby really can’t tell the difference between a musical play mat specifically designed for tummy time or a soft blanket with a few squeeze toys. Between brand name stackable rings and stackable tupperware containers from the dollar store. They are all plastic, colourful, and equally fascinating to a baby. So save the brand name educational toys and TV character plushies for when they are older and head to your pantry or your neighbourhood dollar store instead. You’ll save both space and money!
Tip #5: Get Your DIY On
While nautical themed baby bedding sets and monogrammed baskets look precious in the nursery, spend time on Pinterest to find easy ways to recreate a lot of these looks yourself. Empty diaper boxes covered in cute fabrics make amazing organizers for little socks, hats, and baby essentials. Gorgeous floral letters for the wall can be made literally in minutes. I actually made an adorable diaper changing mat using nothing but a jersey hijab, a strip of a shower curtain, an oversized button, and an elastic hairband!
H.G. Wells perhaps said it best when he wrote, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” And so that’s what we do. We adapt. This journey of mine, raising my children abroad, has changed me in ways I would not have imagined possible. I’ve learned to adapt, and living without baby gear is just the latest in a long line of “nature’s inexorable imperatives”.
What do you deem an absolute essential for a newborn and what did you find to be a waste of money? Share your experiences below. We are sure that our mamas to be would love to know!
Rania Emara is a writer and author of children's and YA fiction who graduated from Oakland University in Michigan with a BA in Political Science and a teaching certificate in ESL. Besides writing, she is an editor and ISO certified quality management consultant, with 20+ years of experience in healthcare operations, quality management and communications. She is a wife, a mother of two boys, an educator, a chef, a psychologist, a nurse, a peacekeeper, a booknerd, and a finder of remotes. She maintains a healthy obsession for pizza, coffee, books, planners, and Turkish dramas, with a serious case of wanderlust.